Chiquita has been fighting to block the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) from releasing documents detailing the payments that Chiquita made to paramilitary terrorists in Colombia. But last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit blocked their attempt.
The National Security Archive, a non-profit library located at George Washington University, requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to collect records on United States–Colombia relations involving narcotics trafficking, drug cartels, and paramilitary groups. The 23 boxes containing receipts, ledgers, and internal correspondence detailing Chiquita’s lengthy support of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, were obtained by the U.S. Government during the investigation that ultimately led to Chiquita pleading guilty to the federal crime of paying a designated terrorist organization.
ERI and others have sued Chiquita on behalf of the families of the paramilitaries’ victims, and those cases are currently before a federal court in Florida. That court previously refused to dismiss the lawsuits, relying partly on documents from other FOIA requests by the National Security Archive. In trying to block the document release from the SEC, Chiquita unsuccessfully argued that the documents would unfairly influence the outcome of these civil lawsuits.
Chiquita is currently attempting to have the civil lawsuits moved to Colombia—where the threat of retaliation from Chiquita’s former terror network makes litigation unlikely—and they continue to attempt to downplay and conceal their former relationship with paramilitaries. One would think that, after acknowledging its criminal responsibility and pleading guilty, the company would be penitent for its misdeeds. But something in those 23 boxes seems to be causing the multinational corporation much concern. What does Chiquita have to hide?
By Sevren Gourley, Summer Legal Intern.